Propane is the lifeblood of many RV and travel trailer systems. Gas is used for the stovetop, oven, refrigerator, hot water heater and the interior heater. Maintaining and caring for the gas tanks, pressure regulator and lines is important. Luckily, gas systems are very low maintenance but doing a regular service is important to prevent leaks and issues.
DIY vs Professional Services.
On a day to day basis, monitoring is best done by the owner or occupant but all propane systems will eventually require professional maintenance and servicing. The propane tanks themselves are dated for service and will require fresh paint and inspection every couple of years. Having a professional inspection done annually however is a good idea.
Always be conscious of propane tank levels while occupying the camper. Allowing the tanks to run low will mean your refrigerator and heat can shut down suddenly. While it’s rarely a major issue, losing food or being unable to cook for a day or two is inconvenient. Make sure to refill tanks as needed and keep an eye on the tank levels by monitoring the gauge. Many regulators are fitted with a gauge that shows the status of each tank. On multiple tank systems, only open one tank at a time and use the secondary while refilling the primary. This makes for an easy rotation that always keeps the camper supplied with gas.
Gas leaks are very dangerous and while not common, checking for leaks during the annual service is a good move. Knowing the average draw of your propane tanks will also alert you to potential leaks in the system. If your usage is normal and the tanks are draining much faster than normal, do a quick inspection for loose fittings and leaks. Start at the tanks and use a toothbrush or sponge with soapy water to cover the fittings and lines. If the soap bubbles at any specific point, a leak is present. Use this process to check all of the lines but assume the most common areas for leaks are the fittings and joints. In the case of a leak being discovered, immediately mark the spot and turn off the gas. Open a burner on the stove to drain off the residual gas but do not light the flame as gas may be present in the camper. Open all windows and roof vents while the small amount of residual gas drains off and empties the lines.
Know Your Regulator
The propane regulator is an essential component for the system. The regulator is where you can monitor tank levels and it also regulates the pressure of flow through the gas lines. The tanks themselves only have a high pressure outflow and the regulator catches that flow and reduces pressure into a stable stream through the lines. The regulator itself is relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. You must purchase the correct size but changing out a bad regulator only requires a crescent wrench to remove the lines from the old unit and tighten them back up to the new until. You must install the regulator with the inflow and outflow hooked up correctly but the sizes are different which makes it nearly impossible to install backwards. Many RV owners cover their tanks and regulators to protect against the elements. The regulator does have two vent holes and keeping these clean will ensure the vents never clog. An air can cleaner like those used to clean electronics will blow out the vents in seconds.
Keep Your Nose Open
Propane has the addition of an odor to give a distinct smell. Without this odor, gas leaks would be impossible to detect without a carbon monoxide detector. If you smell gas in the camper, check all stove knobs and gas appliances to ensure they are closed off. The heater vents gas to the outside but heaters do fail on occasion and should not be run without an active and tested carbon monoxide detector in the camper. Always leave a window or vent cracked to circulate fresh air. An open window or vent is actually helpful in cold weather because it releases moisture and prevents condensation from developing. There is no need to be paranoid about gas smells, just remain conscientious of gas appliances and the potential for error. In many cases, the smell of gas will exist because the pilot light is out but a trickle of gas is flowing through the opening. Check your pilots and re-light as necessary. Shut everything down and turn off the gas while traveling and restart the system only after the rig is parked in a stable position.